The Lake County transportation sales tax is collecting funds more quickly than predicted.
At the meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25 Lake County highway engineer Krysten Foster told the board of commissioners the tax will reach the $4.5 million cap as soon as 2022, rather than 2026.
"We’ve collected $2.4 million of the $4.5 million that we authorized in 2016," Foster said. "The $4.5 million cap comes from the state law that governs the transportation sales tax. It comes from a list of projects we originally provided to the Department of Revenue in 2016. Without other action, the tax would terminate when the revenues raised are sufficient to finance that list of projects."
Foster plans to host a public meeting on March 24 to propose adding more road projects to the list and discuss necessary increases to the cost estimates for projects currently on the list.
When the transportation sales tax was implemented in 2016, it was expected to collect approximately $400,000 per year and fund a 10-year list of projects. However, Foster said the half of 1% sales tax has exceeded predictions. In one month, July 2018, the county collected a record amount of $125,000.
"So if we want to build more projects in 2022 instead of letting the tax expire, we should get started on the engineering work for those projects this year," Foster said.
Foster suggested adding city street reconstruction projects to the list. Some of the streets recommended include three blocks of Fifth Street in Two Harbors, the area over Skunk Creek and three blocks in Silver Bay; the block in front of the Mary MacDonald Business Center and two blocks adjacent to the Silver Bay City Hall and Fire Department.
"This makes a lot of sense to me, those streets you mentioned are in bad shape," said board chair Rich Sve.
Initially, the project list was comprised of chip and seal-style projects, Foster said, to preserve the pavement in the county.
"When I think about our system as a whole, there’s only so much pavement preservation we can do," Foster said. "When we started this tax, we started it with the idea of preserving the pavements we have. However the amount of chip seals we can do is limited by the amount of good pavement we have out there."
For example, when preparing estimates for the 2020 projects, Foster said staff members found that two roads originally scheduled for mill and overlay work were in worse shape than predicted.
"For Moose Lake Road and Fall Lake Road we’re looking at doing a reclamation instead of a mill and overlay to take care of that pavement," Foster said. "The blacktop in place isn't thick enough to accomplish a mill and overlay."
The public hearing on Tuesday, March 24 will review the change in scope of projects such as Moose Lake Road and Fall Lake Road, as well as cover new projects to be added to the list. The hearing will be held at 2 p.m. in the Lake County Service Center.